Giving up alcohol and resisting other temptations

I have never been particularly religious, but I have always given up something for Lent. Maybe I’m more God-fearing than I would like to think I am, but I have found that whenever I choose to give something up for the forty-day period I tend to stick to it. I think this has something to do with knowing you can indulge yourself when it gets to Easter! The last few years have involved giving up crisps, chocolate biscuits and, reluctantly, coffee.

Lent is a period in the Christian calendar that lasts for forty days before Easter weekend. Fasting, which is represented in a contempory sense with giving up a favourite treat, is used in preparations of Easter to reflect the period where Jesus fasted for forty days in the desert before beginning his work for God.

cocktailsThis year I have chosen to give up alcohol for Lent after agreeing this with my friend and housemate, Ellie. As university students, we can’t deny that alcohol, and sometimes binge-drinking, is a part of life in university. Alcohol is everywhere, from the pubs we socialise in, the predrinks we have at home to the clubs we go to on our nights out. We want to experience all of this during Lent and prove that we can have just as much fun without a drink!

For me, it’s also about finally sticking to my New Year’s resolution of being healthier in general, and I think having a short forty-day plan is the best way to stick to something. Hopefully, the alcohol free period will leave us feeling fresher, help us lose some weight (alcoholic drinks are deceptively high in calories) and help our mental well-being, as well as not having to deal with those Sunday morning hangovers!

I’ll post an update in a few weeks’ time to discuss how we are finding the experience, as well as noting how different university social life is without alcohol. Let us know what you are giving up for Lent this year and how you resist the temptation to give in by commenting below, or by tweeting me @andrea_avena

Advertisements

So, you’re going to uni? My Top Ten Tips for being a Fresher!

It’s results day today, and a whopping 386,000 of you have got into university today – well done to all of you! I’m starting my second year this September, so here’s my top ten tips for being a university fresher:

1. Look on Facebook for people in your halls and on your course – lots of universities and student unions run facebook pages for freshers to find people that they will be spending the year with, it’s a great way to get to know a few friendly faces before you start.

2. Go to as many fresher’s events as you can! These events are there for you to meet new people, find new friends and get to know your campus. If you’re not into partying all night there will be a whole range of different events to go to.

3. Don’t sign up to every society you like the sound of – your first year at uni is a busy year and you won’t have the chance to do everything, so don’t waste your money on signing up to societies. Most societies let non-members but tickets for events anyway!

4. Don’t buy too much if your moving into halls – do you really need a whole set of different sized frying pans, saucepan’s and woks? One or two will do!

5. Enjoy freshers week, but don’t go too crazy – you don’t want to get a reputation from the beginning. At my freshers week one girl got incredibly drunk and urinated in a kitchen sink, and for the rest of the year she was known as “The Girl who Peed in the Sink.” No one wants that as a nickname. She was actually a lovely girl.

6. This tip was given to me by a teacher, so don’t judge me. When you are dropped off to uni your parents will be in a highly emotional state. The apple of their eye is moving away from them and they still want to protect and help them. This is a perfect situation to ask for money. What?! Uni is expensive!

7. Most courses will give you a reading list – do NOT buy all the books! A lot of universities have enough copies in their libraries, and many now give you access to free e-books, so don’t waste money on expensive textbooks. Also, you’ll hardly open them in your first year, save money for the second year! (Please don’t tell my lecturers I said that)

8. Stay safe – for many people uni is the first chance of independence and you want to make the most of it. Do it! Try everything! But still be safe – go out with good friends, take care of each other and don’t trust strangers.

9. It’s okay not to enjoy some things – we go to uni with high expectations, and sometimes things are just not as good as we expected. Don’t worry,you’re probably not the only one thinking it. Don’t let it get you down, just try something different and you’ll soon start enjoying uni again.

10. Hangovers- you’re going to have them. Hangovers are simply the effects of low blood sugar and dehydration. So when you get in from a night out drink a pint of water and eat some carbohydrate (this is where 24hour Domino’s delivery helps). If it’s really bad take some paracetamol and a nap and you’ll soon be ready for the next night out.

So there’s my top tips for starting uni. God, I wish I could do my fresher’s year again! As always, if you have any questions or comments please leave a comment below, or tweet me @andrea_avena

“Don’t call it Frisco!” Three nights in San Francisco

So this is my first blog post from my Californian road trip, which has been one of my dream trips for many years! I’m currently writing this blog post in the car as we drive along Route 1, Pacific Coast Highway from San Francisco to Monterey, our next stop.

I’m travelling with my parents and my brother, and we’re moving on after spending our first three nights in San Francisco. We stayed in a hotel just off of Union Square, which turned out to be right in the heart of the shopping district (Mum picked the hotel!) with Macy’s, Saks Fifth Avenue and a multitude of other high end shops on our doorstep.

20130726-230457.jpg

Union Square is also the best place to catch a tram down to Fisherman’s wharf, a must see location in San Francisco. We rode a tram to Lombard Street, known as the world’s “crookedest street.” The steep street has 5 hairpin bends which are decorated with hydrangea plants, which have created a tourist hotspot right outside the houses on Lombard street.

From here we walked down to Fisherman’s Wharf, taking in panoramic views of San Francisco Bay and Alcatraz Island – the island-prison which was home to some of America’s most notorious criminals, including Al Capone.

20130726-230558.jpg

Although highly developed for tourism, Fisherman’s Wharf still thrives on the fishing industry, with shrimp and crab-fishing boats providing the staple ingredients for a variety of restaurants along the Wharf. Some of these boats also provide trips around the Bay. For only $15 each, we had a fantastic, but rather windy boat ride to see the spectacular Golden Gate Bridge, as well as a close-up view of Alcatraz. This for me was a highlight of my stay in San Francisco, as you get to see the Golden Gate Bridge from every angle!

20130726-230755.jpg

After returning to the land, which was considerably less windy, we explored Fisherman’s Wharf further, including Pier 39, a boardwalk full of fun souvenir shops and food stalls, many of which sell the famous San Francisco Clam Chowder in a bread bowl.

We started our second day in San Francisco at Lori’s Diner, an excellent ’50s style diner which served the huge breakfasts with amazing milkshakes. We returned to Golden Gate Bridge, this time to walk along it. From our hotel we got a taxi to take us to the visitor centre (taxis are relatively cheap when there are a few of you travelling in them) where we learned about the building work and cost involved in constructing the bridge. We then set off to walk across the bridge, looking back at stunning yet foggy views of San Francisco.

We didn’t make it all the way along the 1.7 mile long bridge as we decided to head over to North Beach, the Italian district. Here we visited the creative heart of San Francisco, City Lights Book Store which was the focal point for the Beat Generation writers such as Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg. The independent book store welcomes people who come to read and discuss the literature available to purchase, functioning as a sort-of library where you can buy the books!

The Italian district is filled with delis and espresso bars serving authentic sandwiches and coffee. The oldest one of these is the Caffe Trieste at 601 Vallejo street. The simple espresso bar pioneered the espresso coffee culture in America from 1956 – it could be said that they are the reason why you hardly ever see a San Franciscan walking down the street without a coffee in their hand!

We ended our second and final full day in San Francisco with a walk around Chinatown and meal there. To be honest, I wasn’t as impressed with Chinatown as I thought I would be, but after spending a lot of time in London’s Chinatown maybe I had preconceived ideas of what San Francisco’s would be like. We did have a fantastic meal though – we were told by a taxi driver that the best way to choose a restaurant in Chinatown is to go for the cleanest looking restaurant, and this worked out well for us.

20130726-230958.jpg

Overall, my first impression of San Francisco was of a welcoming cosmopolitan city. I’d like to come back to explore it further, and I’d recommend it to any prospective travellers to California.

My next blog post will be about the start of our road trip along Pacific Coast Highway and our stop in Monterey.

I’d love to hear any comments you have about San Francisco & California in general, so please comment below, and as always you can find me on twitter: @andrea_avena

20130726-231211.jpg

A trip to Spain!

Once again I have to start a blog post with an apology for not posting anything in a while – who though that university would require doing work? (And going out a lot, but this doesn’t sound as good an excuse for not blogging.)

My second term has been even better than the first, particularly due to the fact that I got to spend a week in the sunny southern Spain last month. I was in the seaside resort of Nerja for my first year field trip with the rest of my year, and had a fantastic time.

Balacon de Europa, Nerja

Balacon de Europa, Nerja

Nerja is different to other towns on the Costa Del Sol. With its white-washed houses, a well-cared for old town and a beautiful beach, it has a real sense of being ‘Spanish’ unlike towns such as Marbella and Benidorm further down the coast. It has a wonderful terrace, named the Balcon de Europa which extends from the town’s main square, and overlooks the Mediterranean Sea towards Africa. I’d recommend getting an ice cream from one of the bars near the Balcon de Europa. The area is perfect to sit and enjoy one of the many choices of flavours from the deliciously decadent chocolate ice creams to a more exotic coconut flavour. Spanish cuisine is one of my personal favourites, so exploring the many different bars and restaurants in Nerja was great for me.

Another highlight of Nerja is of course the world famous caves. I spent an hour there looking at the incredibly grand caverns with ancient stalactites and stalagmites. I could have spent so much longer in there, despite the fact that I am normally quite claustrophobic, as the natural formations are spectacular. If you get the opportunity to spend longer in the caves, there are meant to be some excellent examples of pre-historic cave art.

Eggs, Chorizo and patatas, Nerja

Eggs, Chorizo and patatas, Nerja

Although the nightlife in Nerja can’t be compared to other towns along the coast, a small strip of bars and clubs known as Tutti Frutti Plaza offers late night drinking and music for a very reasonable price. I’m sure the bars are filled with people in the height of the tourist season, but they were particularly quiet during the time of year that we visited, though with 130 students from our course, this didn’t stop us from having a great time.

Personally, I enjoyed the trip so much as I really got to know the other people on my course who I will be studying with over the next couple of years. I’m very much looking forward to taking other field trips in the years to come, especially as Malawi and New York are being mentioned for next year!

5 Interesting Travel Destinations for 2013

Burma

This South-East Asian country has been unwelcoming to western travellers in the past, but with political reform, the release of opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi and even a state visit from President Obama have led to a developing tourist industry in Burma. Burma has a rich culture that hasn’t been explored as extensively as neighbouring countries. Inquisitive travellers will be thrilled to discover Bagan, a pilgrimage site of Bhuddist Shrines and breath-taking pagodas which cover an extensive area.

Htilominlo Pahto, a 46m high pagoda in Burma's ancient city of Bagan. © Bruno Cossa/SOPA/Corbis

Htilominlo Pahto, a 46m high pagoda in Burma’s ancient city of Bagan.
© Bruno Cossa/SOPA/Corbis

Malawi

2013 is set to be a big year for tourism in Malawi. The landlocked African country has recently opened a stunning resort on the Likoma Island situated within Lake Malawi, Africa’s second largest inland sea. Kaya Mawa offers a wide range of rooms and beach houses, and a wealth of activities such as fishing and kayaking on the crystal clear waters of the lake. It wouldn’t be worth visiting Malawi without a safari trip, so making time to visit Liwonde National Park for its hippo and elephant populations is a must.

California

The USA’s sunniest state may be famous for its glamour, awards ceremonies and luxury but there’s much more to California than you see in a reality show. The state boasts some of the most spectacular vistas on the American continent, and a driving trip on Route 1 otherwise known as Pacific Highway is the best way to see as much as possible. The most stunning views are said to be at Big Sur, where the Santa Lucia mountains descend into the ocean and are dotted with redwood tree groves. Of course, after a spending some time in stunning natural beauty, travellers can ease themselves back to the urban world by visiting Los Angeles.

Pacific Highway may be considered one of the most stunning roads in the world.  © Robert Glusic/Corbis

Pacific Highway may be considered one of the most stunning roads in the world.
© Robert Glusic/Corbis

Croatia

Holidaying in the Med isn’t completely reserved for beach bums who are intent on getting a tan, Croatia’s coastline offers the chance to explore the historic and cultural city of Dubrovnik. Known as the Pearl of the Adriatic, this beautiful Venetian-built city has been restored since many parts were destroyed in the 1991 siege. The city is surrounded by  pristine coastline, offering something which other Mediterranean coastlines can no longer offer.

A view of the historic port city of Dubrovnik from one of its pristine beaches. © Peter Barritt/Purestock/Super

A view of the historic port city of Dubrovnik from one of its pristine beaches.
© Peter Barritt/Purestock/Super

South Korea

This one is definitely for the more active travellers. Though it isn’t well known outside the country, South Korea has developed into a great destination for outdoor recreation, offering travellers the potential for golfing, hiking and fishing trips. The recreation industry is set to explode in South Korea this year as it hosts three major sporting events: Special Olympics Winter Games, the Asian Indoor and Martial Arts Games and the World Rowing Championships.

 

Follow me on twitter for more updates, and please feel free to comment, feedback always helps!

2012 – What a year it’s been!

What a great image from the 2012 London Olympic Games!

What a great image from the 2012 London Olympic Games!

I can’t quite believe that it’s New Year’s Eve already, the year has seemed to fly by faster than any other year! I’ve had many ups, and a few downs but I’m definitely happy to be moving forward to 2013.

Thinking back to January, I can’t believe how much has changed since then. Back in January I was still at my Sixth form getting ready to spend the last few months on my A Levels, and I remember thinking that they were the hardest things I have ever done! After getting through them and starting university they seem a lifetime away. It was sad to say goodbye to lots of friends at my sixth form as my last year there ended, but it has been great to catch up with so many people over Christmas.

I had a great summer with friends and family. I enjoyed visiting Italy with my dad in May, going to Barcelona with my close friends in August as well as enjoying the Olympics and Paralympics in London with my family.

Starting university has made me more independent, given me the chance to have so much fun, as well as being tough at times. I love being at Royal Holloway, spending more time in London and having a good time there.

Although the year ended for me on a sad note – we sadly lost my grandfather, Nonno Carmine after a long battle with illness – I am so grateful for the time we did get to spend with him and I hope this will give me the strength to make 2013 a positive year for me and my family.

Overall I can say that 2012 has been a year of many new beginnings for me, I’m grateful for everything it has bought me and I hope 2013 is a great year too.

Have a very happy New Year everyone, stay safe and have a lot of fun!

Prince Harry Naked Pictures: There IS an issue with this…

Prince Harry, pictured here not partying in Las Vegas

…but it’s not what you might already be thinking.

If you haven’t heard about Prince Harry’s party in Vegas by now, where on Earth have you been for two days? Articles about his partying in Vegas, pictures of him naked and partying in Vegas and articles about the pictures of him partying in Vegas have been available to anyone who can buy a newspaper or operate Google.

Today, after much debate the Sun has decided to print the pictures which were first released by the trashy gossip site TMZ.com. My personal view is that Harry has done nothing wrong. He hasn’t cheated on anyone, hurt anyone or done something illegal. In fact, the pictures seem to have been a good PR event for him and the Royal Family, which many have seen as outdated and conservative.

What I find troubling was that the pictures were able to be taken at all. Harry travelled to Vegas reportedly with six taxpayer-funded security guards, who were there protect Harry not only from physical harm but press intrusion.

To me, the fact that a woman was able to have a camera in Harry’s private room and sell the pictures shows that security around the royal was not strong enough. This is particularly dangerous considering the Harry’s high profile in America, a country suffering a recent wave in gun crime, as seen with the Arizona massacre last month. Surely if an individual was able to have a camera in the room, it wouldn’t have been much harder for them to sneak a gun in there, especially in the US, where gun control laws seem to be non-existent. Moreover, several of the Prince’s family members have suffered assassination attempts which could suggest there is a real threat.

To be fair, it would probably be unlikely that anyone at the party would have been able to conceal a weapon, but I do think it’s bad that Harry’s security team allowed this to happen. Other than this, Harry can do what he likes in his private life, but maybe the people being paid to protect him from media intrusion and other threats should something from this whole story.

What’s your opinion about the Prince’s partying? Leave a comment below or on this blog’s facebook page!

Barcelona – The Best of Spain

Barcelona is one of Spain’s most beautiful and most cosmopolitan cities. Designed by Antoni Gaudi, bathed in Mediterranean sun and right on the coast, the city makes for a fantastic place to visit. Last week I went back to stay in Barcelona with two friends after visiting the city last year with my family, though this time I stayed for slightly longer.

We stayed in the fantastic Casa Gracia, a hostel located on the Passeig de Gracia, which is in central Barcelona and is scattered with designer shops such as Gucci, Louis Vuitton, Valentino and D&G. The wonderfully unique hostel provided so much more than we expected – we had a private three-bed room with an ensuite, which was immaculately clean and spacious. The hostel owner’s organised great evening’s out in Barcelona, offering free entry to the coolest bars and clubs in the city. The best feature though was the sangria and paella nights. For just €8 you could enjoy a hearty meal of paella, salad and tapas as well as jugs of sangria! Also, the staff could not have been more helpful with advising us on the best bars to go to, supermarkets to buy food as well as getting around Barcelona.

We made the most of our Hostel’s central location by buying a T-10 metro ticket. This allowed us ten stops on Barcelona’s easy to use metro system, making it easy to explore the city. On our first day, we covered La Ramblas, the equivalent of Oxford Street and the amazing La Boqueria market. The historic market is fully functional with fantastic displays of fresh fruit, the region’s finest Iberico hams and chorizos as well as an interesting, yet odorous, fish section. I’d fully recommend a visit, is a beautiful place!

Fish at La Boqueria

We all enjoyed wandering around the streets of the Barri Gotic, the older quarter of Barcelona. At its centre is the magnificent Barcelona Cathedral (not to be confused with the even more spectacular Sagrada Familia) a tourist hotspot. The backstreets here are filled with independent clothes shops, vintage and second hand stores and well as excellent Tapas bars.  We really enjoyed Bilbao Berria, a fantastic bar which offers a buffet style selection of tapas treats, including traditional Serrano hams, quail’s eggs with chorizo, padron pepper amongst modern foods such as the mini-burger’s. What’s more, the prices offer excellent value for the great quality food you get.

A small selection of tapas available at Bilbao Berria

In contrast for with our typical tourist days of exploring the sights of Barcelona, we spent one day on Mount Tibidabo, which has a great theme park! We got the bus directly there from Placa de Catalunya, the central hub of Barcelona which was only a short walk from Casa Gracia. When we arrived at Tibidabo we discovered that not only could we get to spend the day enjoying a series of white-knuckle rides, we had also found the most spectacular panoramic view of Barcelona! The view could be enjoyed with your feet safely on the ground, as well as being hoisted into the air on a rickety contraption where you stood in a basket.

Our last full day in Barcelona was spent on Barceloneta Beach, a short metro ride from our hostel and central Barcelona. The golden-sanded beach was packed with local people and tourists, and we may have arrived too late in the day judging by our difficulty in finding an umbrella to sit under! However, we managed to keep cool by enjoying lunch and an iced drink at one of the beaches many café’s and lounges.

Our short stay in Barcelona was packed with seeing sights, the most awe-inspiring being the uncompleted Sagrada Familia, Gaudi’s masterpiece of a church. The beautiful architecture on every street of Barcelona is no match to the Sagrada Familia, and I don’t think I’m capable of describing it in a way that will do it justice. I’ll say this much, you must see it once in your lifetime!

We could have spent more time in Barcelona, we didn’t get to see Parc Guell, another Gaudi designed attraction or the Olympic Village, built for the 1992 Games which regenerated the city. I’d recommend a 5 night stay in Barcelona to see the best of this beautiful city.

Churros are to die for! You dip these sweet pastries into warm melted chocolate

More Information:

We would have been lost in Barcelona without the Dorling Kindersley and Lonely Planet Guides to Barcelona, as well as the extremely helpful Tourist Information kiosks on Placa de Catalunya, and the concierge at Casa Gracia.

Follow me on facebook and twitter for more updates. 

Music and My Terrible Singing Voice

Right, so @samerjaber777 has challenged me to write a blog post about the topic of Music today, so here goes.

Music is an essential part of my life, but as many of my friends will tell you, I have no musical ability at all. Children have been known to cry when I sing, and my music teacher seemed to be relieved when I chose to stop playing the only instrument I’ve tried to play – the oboe.

But music is an important part of my life. Music is what turns a gathering of friends into an all night party, it’s what connects you to the strangers around you in a club or a gig and it’s an outlet for the emotions that you have that you could never tell people. It’s no surprise that most music is written about love

My music taste is wildly varied. Before I started writing this post I flicked through the songs on my iPod and found Dance hits from the 90’s, 80’s rock hits today’s pop music and eve a few classical pieces. That’s the beauty of music. There’s a track or genre that can reflect any emotion you feel and any frame of mind or environment which you find yourself in.

I would say that most of my music is connected to a particular memory I have. I downloaded The E.N.D by the Black Eyed Peas after watching them perform fantastically at the O2 in 2009. There’s an Irish folk tune on my iPod which reminds me of a holiday in Devon, strangely and there’s a Vengaboys hit (I use the term loosely) which reminds me of those primary school discos!

If there’s one thing I can say about music taste it’s this – don’t let other people dictate what you should like. Music isn’t about the most popular star performing the song, and it shouldn’t be about what’s supposedly cool. Learn to love all types of music, and define your own taste. Even if it is heavy metal or screamo.

Challenge me to write a blog post about any topic by tweeting me or posting on my facebook page!

A Taste of Tuscany

I’ve just got back from a short but fantastic trip to Tuscany. I was with my Dad a few other people for some  wine tasting on the Zonin estates, which was a great experience. I’ve been to Tuscany before, but this was the first time learning about wine making and the stories of the historic, mediaeval vineyards. Each wine tasting was accompanied by food which was best suited to the wine; and we got to eat in beautiful homes on the estates such as Castello d’Albolo. We were in the Chianti region of  Tuscany, where the famous Chianti Classico wine is made with San Giovese grapes that have ripened under the Tuscan sun. Here’s a selection of photos which I took on the trip which best represent the beautiful Tuscan countryside.

 

San Giovese vineyards at Castello d’Albolo

 

These scooters can be seen shooting about all over Italy!

 

My favourite pasta dish – Papardelle con Ragu

 

In the gardens at Castello d’Albolo

 

The tourist hotspot of San Gimignano

Vegetable gardens outside Castello d’Albolo